The question of the day is : What exactly is Twitter and how do we integrate it in the journalistic process?
Twitter was created by a San Francisco startup called Obvious and was publicly released in August 2006. It is a free social networking service that enables anyone to post a 140 characters messages, known as tweets, to groups of self-designated followers. The tweets can be sent from and received by any kind of device, laptops and smartphones. It’s like instant messaging or text messaging, but one-to-many, instead of one-to-one. Twitter has grown with an astounding speed since its creation.
News organizations and reporters have been quick to adopt Twitter for an obvious reason: Its speed and brevity make it ideal for pushing out scoops and breaking news to Twitter readers. Twitter attracts the sort of people that media people should love, those who are interested in and engaged with the news. ComScore analyst Andrew Lipsman has found that the average Twitter user is two to three times more likely to visit a leading news Web site than the average person.
It was during the Bombay bombings in february 2009 that Twitter was really used by journalists. Typing #Mumbai, everyone could see live events taking place in Bombay. These are obviously not analysis but reactions, feelings and stories but the latest news as shown writing this tweet from within the hotel : “Mumbai terrorists are asking hotel reception for rooms of American citizens and holding them hostage on one floor” (CNN). Moreover, CNN reported this rumor “” a rumor that the Indian government was asking tweeters to stop live updates to avoid compromising its security efforts” “According to the french newspaper Le Figaro, this rumor is born because of the reactivity of Twitter: “Some were worry that this information in real time make it easier for attackers. Many tweets reported that the Indian army commandos approached hotels that had held hostage. ”
Angelique van Engelen, one of the founder of ReporTwitters, group of “microjournalists” suggests that more and more scoops to make headlines have Twitter as a source. She says that you have more chance of being in the middle of a news item or encountering a scoop by searching the databases of Twitter that searching on Google News.
For some, Twitter is poised to dethrone the AFP as a source of information for journalists. According to the french website Bakchich, ” Many news corporations encourage their reporters to keep a watch on Facebook or Twitter. It seems more and more necessary not to neglect social networks when making this work today. Some English editors have even forced their journalists to register, under penalty of dismissal. And it’s true that Twitter has often if not always, a length ahead of the news agencies.
Of course, everyone is asking the question of the reliability of sources that you can find via Twitter. Here comes the job of journalists who stick to check sources when relaying information to the media. It is now a tool that journalists must learn to manage: “The goal here is not to produce a low-cost information without journalists, but to work smarter through an information network. Produce info more relevant to readers’ expectations: hyper reactive in its less conventional choices, more live, more free, more tone, conversational, very emotional. “says Benoît Raphael, former editor-in-chief and co-founder of Le Post.fr. The basic rules of journalism are needed more than anywhere else on Twitter: checking, always verify the information.
Mark Briggs supports that reporters are obligated to uphold ethical standards even while casually tweeting. “Whatever you put out there doesn’t have to be triple checked, but it can’t be reckless or inaccurate, either,” he says. “You also have to respect other people’s work. Don’t take credit for it if it’s not yours. That suggests that some aspects of Twitter are still under development, at least for journalists”.
Obviously, there is no question that Twitter replaces the work of journalists. There is too much information and they are too fragmented: A mosaic of fragmented information that develops live fairly anarchic, and should therefore be reassembled.
However, Twitter is seen as an integral part of the journalistic process. We can consider its role to complement rather than a replacement. For example, in the Huffington Post, a Twitter feed is placed after the comments that we “follow ” the conversation that takes place on this. A tweet can be a starting point for a story, a tweet may also serve as warning, finally a twitter stream can be juxtaposed next to an article where the words (tweets) of actors involved in what is treated in the article are posted.
Twitter “works best in situations where the story is changing so fast that the mainstream media can’t assemble all the facts at once,” says Craig Stoltz, a Twitter user and new-media consultant who writes a lively tech blog called Web2.0h…Really?. In fact, Twitter can be a serious aid in reporting. It can be a living, breathing tip sheet for facts, new sources and story ideas. It can provide instantaneous access to hard-to-reach newsmakers, given that there’s no PR person standing between a reporter and a tweet to a government official or corporate executive. It can also be a blunt instrument for crowdsourcing.
Arizona State University journalism professor Dan Gillmor says journalists should view Twitter as a “collective intelligence system” that provides early warnings about trends, people and news. Journalists, he says, should “follow people who point them to things they should know about” and direct questions back to them to do better reporting. He recommends setting up keyword searches and understanding “hashtags,” Twitter-speak for a group of tweets about the same subject or event, indicated by a # sign and topic word.
Hashtags are just one of the tools that bring coherence. Sites such as Tweetcloud.com and Twitscoop.com, which track the hottest topics on Twitter, are like police scanners for social media networks. They offer a real-time glimpse into what people, or people on Twitter anyway, are buzzing about. Tweetmeme.com even shows the most popular links that people on Twitter have posted, another trick Google hasn’t learned yet. “Two or three years ago, I would have said RSS feeds were the best way to keep track of a topic. I now think Twitter is better,” says Mark Briggs, who runs a software development company and is the author of “Journalism 2.0,” a book about new digital reporting methods.
Whether they are reporting about it, finding sources on it or urging viewers, listeners and readers to follow them on it, journalists just can’t seem to get enough of the social networking service.
In conclusion, Twitter has proved beyond doubt that news-as-it-happens is one of the most important rules for survival during the media storm. With new technologies, 140 characters can now see the world.
And you, journalists or not, what do you think ? Is twitter a reliable source for journalists ? Should they continue to use it to inform the audience ?